Quake III, Steam, OpenGL error, high resolution workaround

Updated: March 18, 2023

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to buy Quake III Arena (and Team Arena), so me and my buddies can go about shooting and teabagging one another ever so gentlemanly. Before you say anything, yes, there are a dozen Quake clones and spinoffs, including a whole range of open-source options, which I've reviewed numerously in the past. Noted. Now, if you do wanna Quake, you might discover a wee problem.

The Steam version launches in a glorious 640x480px resolution. If you try to change it via the settings, you will only go up to about 1600px or so. The resolution won't change right away. But then, if you restart the game, it won't launch anymore. You will get an OpenGL error - could not load OpenGL subsystem. We need to fix that.

Teaser, resolution problem


The workaround isn't trivial. First, open the game's installation folder. You can do that in Steam with a right-click on the game title > Manage > Browser local files. This will open a folder location, inside which you will find a whole bunch of files, but most importantly, quake3.exe and Team Arena.bat.

We now need to do two things:

What we need to do is add the following to the Target line and/or the launch line:

+set r_fullscreen "1" +set r_customaspect "1" +set r_customwidth "XXXX" +set r_customheight "YYYY" +set r_mode "-1"

The values of XXXX and YYYY should match your display resolution, or whatever you like. For instance:

+set r_fullscreen "1" +set r_customaspect "1" +set r_customwidth "2560" +set r_customheight "1440" +set r_mode "-1"

Thus, the full target line for Quake III becomes (Steam path and resolution will vary):

"[STEAM INSTALL PATH]\steamapps\common\Quake 3 Arena\quake3.exe" +set r_fullscreen "1" +set r_customaspect "1" +set r_customwidth "XXXX" +set r_customheight "YYYY" +set r_mode "-1"

Target line

Whereas the Team Arena.bat file will read:

.\quake3.exe +set fs_cdpath "C:\Program Files\Quake III Arena\baseq3" +set fs_game missionpack +set r_fullscreen "1" +set r_customaspect "1" +set r_customwidth "2560" +set r_customheight "1440" +set r_mode "-1"

Launch the game and have fun

Now, Quake III will run correctly. The settings will still show the old resolution, but you can ignore it. Alas, no screenshots, because the game, for some reason, refuses to take screenshots with the default Steam F12 button. Something to explore and resolve, but no biggie. You will need to believe me that this works.


It's a shame that you need to resort to command-line tricks to run this old title properly, and most people will probably not be happy with it. Then again, if you're the kind of person still playing Quake III in 2023, then this little hurdle won't stop you. The error message is a bit alarming, but it probably stems from the fact that the game has never been designed for the kind of graphics we have nowadays.

And there you go. A somewhat hacky fix for an ancient game. But then, it will run and render correctly, and you can go about zooming and strafing and getting pwned by your friends. The multiplayer functionality is there, Internet or LAN, so if you do actually have friends, it's time to summon them. Game on.